The first challenge would be to get your hands on the software. In some cases, that’d be easy. In other cases, not so easy.
Autodesk makes over 30 of their products available for free through the Autodesk Assistance Program website.
PTC makes a free version of Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express available to anyone who wants it. The software has some limits (I’m particularly irritated by the lack of a shell function), but it is a decent program for learning Creo Elements/Direct (aka CoCreate.)
SolidWorks used to offer free software through their Engineering Stimulus Package website. No more. Their website says “Having achieved the goal of helping retrain the unemployed workforce, this program has officially ended.” (I’m certainly glad they achieved that goal.)
There are not too many programs tailored to get CAD software in the hands of unemployed engineers. Unless you happen to be a student:
- Dassault SolidWorks offers a student version of SolidWorks for $150.
- Siemens PLM is now offering a free student version of Solid Edge.
- Autodesk offers over 30 of their products free to students.
- Dassault Systemes offers a student version of CATIA V5 for $99.
- Siemens offers a student version of NX. I found it at journeyed.com, priced at $134.95 (“You Save $20,775.05”).
- PTC offers the Creo/Elements Pro Student Edition for $119.99.
The requirements to get student versions of software vary. I some cases, you need to provide a copy of a student ID. In other cases, you need to show proof of enrollment. In other cases (such as with Autodesk) you need to have a .edu email account. Beyond this, the software availability varies country by country. And, as you might imagine, the software is not licensed for commercial use. Only for personal learning.
In the United States, it seems that, in most cases, enrolling to take a single course at a local community college might be enough to make you eligible to get student software.
I’d like to argue that the bar should be even lower to get access to student versions of MCAD software, but vendors might find quibbling over $100 or $150 is a bit precious. And it is–unless you’re unemployed, and don’t have that kind of money to spare.
Because I’m not a student, and haven’t tried to get these programs, I can’t say how the verification requirements are enforced. (If you have some experience with student MCAD software, though, I’d be interested in hearing about it.)
Ultimately, the important question I have for CAD vendors is this: Why make it harder than necessary for people to learn to use your software?